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Classification
Scientific Name: Rocky Mountain Alpine Dwarf-Shrubland
Unique Identifier: CES306.810
Classification Confidence: 2 - Moderate

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Summary: This widespread ecological system occurs above upper timberline throughout the Rocky Mountain cordillera, including alpine areas of ranges in Utah and Nevada, and north into Canada. Elevations are above 3360 m in the Colorado Rockies but drop to less than 2100 m in northwestern Montana and in the mountains of Alberta. This system occurs in areas of level or concave glacial topography, with late-lying snow and subirrigation from surrounding slopes. Soils have become relatively stabilized in these sites, are moist but well-drained, strongly acidic, and often with substantial peat layers. Vegetation in these areas is controlled by snow retention, wind desiccation, permafrost, and a short growing season. This ecological system is characterized by a semi-continuous layer of ericaceous dwarf-shrubs or dwarf willows which form a heath type ground cover less than 0.5 m in height. Dense tuffs of graminoids and scattered forbs occur. Dryas octopetala or Dryas integrifolia communities are not included here, except for one very moist association, because they occur on more windswept and drier sites than the heath communities. Within these communities, Cassiope mertensiana, Salix arctica, Salix reticulata, Salix vestita, or Phyllodoce empetriformis can be dominant shrubs. Vaccinium spp., Ledum glandulosum, Phyllodoce glanduliflora, and Kalmia microphylla may also be shrub associates. The herbaceous layer is a mixture of forbs and graminoids, especially sedges, including, Erigeron spp., Luetkea pectinata, Antennaria lanata, Oreostemma alpigenum (= Aster alpigenus), Pedicularis spp., Castilleja spp., Deschampsia caespitosa, Caltha leptosepala, Erythronium spp., Juncus parryi, Luzula piperi, Carex spectabilis, Carex nigricans, and Polygonum bistortoides. Fell-fields often intermingle with the alpine dwarf-shrubland.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)


Component Associations
Association Unique ID Association Name
CEGL001136 Salix glauca Wet Shrubland
CEGL001140 Vaccinium (caespitosum, scoparium) Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001396 Cassiope mertensiana / Carex paysonis Wet Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001398 Cassiope mertensiana - Phyllodoce empetriformis Alpine Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001403 Kalmia microphylla / Carex scopulorum Wet Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001404 Phyllodoce empetriformis Parkland Alpine Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001405 Phyllodoce empetriformis / Antennaria lanata Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001406 Phyllodoce empetriformis / Lupinus latifolius Alpine Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001407 Phyllodoce empetriformis / Vaccinium deliciosum Alpine Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001408 Phyllodoce glanduliflora / Oreostemma alpigenum Alpine Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001429 Salix arctica - Salix petrophila / Caltha leptosepala Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001430 Salix arctica / Geum rossii Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001431 Salix arctica - (Salix petrophila, Salix nivalis) / Polygonum bistortoides Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001432 Salix arctica - Salix nivalis Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001435 Salix reticulata / Caltha leptosepala Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL001890 Dryas integrifolia - Carex spp. Alpine Dwarf-shrub Meadow
CEGL001894 Dryas octopetala - Polygonum viviparum Alpine Dwarf-shrub Meadow
CEGL005877 Phyllodoce glanduliflora / Sibbaldia procumbens Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL005878 Salix arctica / Carex nigricans Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL005879 Vaccinium (myrtillus, scoparium) / Luzula glabrata var. hitchcockii Dwarf-shrubland
CEGL005936 Salix nivalis / Geum rossii Dwarf-shrubland



Classifiers

Land Cover Class: Shrubland
Spatial Pattern: Large patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: No
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Alpine/AltiAndino Alpine/AltiAndino
Patterned ground (undifferentiated)  
Glaciated  
Acidic Soil  
Udic  
Very Long Disturbance Interval  
Dwarf-Shrub  
Alpine Slopes  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Shrubland (Shrub-dominated)  
Temperate Temperate Continental
Mineral: W/ A-Horizon >10 cm  
Bryophyte  

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
acter-
istic
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Salix arctica G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Salix nivalis G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Salix reticulata G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)  
 
 
Salix vestita G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)  
 
 
Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda T5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Shrub/sapling (tall & short)    
 
 
Ledum glandulosum G5 Broad-leaved evergreen tree Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Cassiope mertensiana G5 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Dryas integrifolia G5 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Dryas octopetala G5 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Phyllodoce empetriformis G5 Dwarf-shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Vaccinium caespitosum G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Vaccinium scoparium G5 Broad-leaved deciduous shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Kalmia microphylla G5 Broad-leaved evergreen shrub Short shrub/sapling    
 
 
Minuartia obtusiloba G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Polygonum bistortoides G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Polygonum viviparum G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Potentilla diversifolia G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Silene acaulis G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 


Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: AKpotentially occurs, CO, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, UT, WA, WY
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: AB, BC
Global Range: This system occurs above upper timberline throughout the Rocky Mountain cordillera, including alpine areas of ranges in Utah and Nevada, and north into Canada. Elevations are above 3360 m in the Colorado Rockies but drop to less than 2100 m in northwestern Montana.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
304-Inter-Mountain Basins C: Confident or certain
306-Rocky Mountain C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
11 Great Basin Confident or certain
19 Colorado Plateau Confident or certain
20 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
21 Arizona-New Mexico Mountains Confident or certain
4 Modoc Plateau and East Cascades Predicted or probable
68 Okanagan Predicted or probable
7 Canadian Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
8 Middle Rockies - Blue Mountains Confident or certain
9 Utah-Wyoming Rocky Mountains Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
1 Northern Cascades Predicted or probable
7 Cascade Mountain Range Never was there
9 Blue Mountain Region Predicted or probable
10 Northwestern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
16 Utah High Plateaus Confident or certain
17 Eastern Great Basin Confident or certain
18 Snake River Plain Possible
19 Northern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
21 Middle Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
22 Wyoming Basin Possible
23 Colorado Plateau Predicted or probable
24 Navajo Plateau Predicted or probable
25 Rio Grande Basin Confident or certain
28 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
29 Wyoming Highlands Possible

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 5207
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1070
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2070

West Landfire Legend: Yes
East Landfire Legend: No

Authors/Contributors
Element Description Edition Date: 01Sep2005
Element Description Author(s): M.S. Reid

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).


References
  • Anderson, M. G. 1999a. Viability and spatial assessment of ecological communities in the Northern Appalachian ecoregion. Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Hampshire, Durham.

  • Bamberg, S. A. 1961. Plant ecology of alpine tundra area in Montana and adjacent Wyoming. Unpublished dissertation, University of Colorado, Boulder. 163 pp.

  • Bamberg, S. A., and J. Major. 1968. Ecology of the vegetation and soils associated with calcareous parent materials in three alpine regions of Montana. Ecological Monographs 38(2):127-167.

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Cooper, S. V., P. Lesica, and D. Page-Dumroese. 1997. Plant community classification for alpine vegetation on Beaverhead National Forest, Montana. Report INT-GTR-362. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. 61 pp.

  • Douglas, G. W., and L. C. Bliss. 1977. Alpine and high subalpine plant communities of the North Cascades Range, Washington and British Columbia. Ecological Monographs 47:113-150.

  • Ecosystems Working Group. 1998. Standards for broad terrestrial ecosystem classification and mapping for British Columbia. Prepared by the Ecosystems Working Group, Terrestrial Ecosystem Task Force, Resources Inventory Committee, for the Province of British Columbia. 174 pp. plus appendices. [http://srmwww.gov.bc.ca/risc/pubs/teecolo/tem/indextem.htm]

  • Komarkova, V. 1976. Alpine vegetation of the Indian Peaks Area, Front Range, Colorado Rocky Mountains. Unpublished dissertation, University of Colorado, Boulder. 655 pp.

  • Komarkova, V. 1980. Classification and ordination in the Indian Peaks area, Colorado Rocky Mountains. Vegetatio 42:149-163.

  • Meidinger, D., and J. Pojar, editors. 1991. Ecosystems of British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Forests Special Report Series No. 6. Victoria, BC. 330 pp.

  • NCC [The Nature Conservancy of Canada]. 2002. Canadian Rockies ecoregional plan. The Nature Conservancy of Canada, Victoria, BC.

  • Neely, B., P. Comer, C. Moritz, M. Lammerts, R. Rondeau, C. Prague, G. Bell, H. Copeland, J. Humke, S. Spakeman, T. Schulz, D. Theobald, and L. Valutis. 2001. Southern Rocky Mountains: An ecoregional assessment and conservation blueprint. Prepared by The Nature Conservancy with support from the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado Division of Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management.

  • Schwan, H. E., and D. F. Costello. 1951. The Rocky Mountain alpine type: Range conditions, trends and land use (a preliminary report). Unpublished report prepared for USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (R2), Denver, CO. 18 pp.

  • Shiflet, T. N., editor. 1994. Rangeland cover types of the United States. Society for Range Management. Denver, CO. 152 pp.

  • Thilenius, J. F. 1975. Alpine range management in the western United States--principles, practices, and problems: The status of our knowledge. Research Paper RM-157. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, CO. 32 pp.

  • Willard, B. E. 1963. Phytosociology of the alpine tundra of Trail Ridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Unpublished dissertation, University of Colorado, Boulder.


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